The Camera Does Matter (it just depends…)

There are many photographic clichés and my least favourites one goes “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

You’ll see it on so many camera forums trotted out by those who like to make themselves look “expert” in some way. Now, while clearly you can’t take a photo without a camera, I have to challenge the thinking behind this particular cliché which is that you can take a prize-winning photo on a pinhole camera and you can take a dreadful snapshot on the most expensive camera money can buy.

While it’s true there are many ghastly photos taken every day on cameras costing many thousands of Pounds, it’s incredibly unlikely you’ll get a prize-winning photo on a pinhole camera or cameraphone.

blurred, colourful photo of fairground waltzers ride

When I take personal photos like this the camera is less important

I’m sure someone somewhere has taken a photo with a cheap camera or on a smartphone which they’ve managed to sell to a newspaper or won a prize with somewhere, but this is to ignore the fact that the world is vast and the “infinite monkey” theory will disprove any sweeping statement. Except it doesn’t disprove anything, because I’m talking about likelihood. I’m also talking about context in which a photo is taken and the context in which it is to be published.

Of course if you get a nice colourful snap on your phone it’ll look lovely on the internet, which will prove you didn’t need a big fancy camera to take that photo. Try to sell that photo to a stock library and it’ll get rejected on the grounds that it won’t come up to client requirements for image size and quality.

Take a photo of Lord Lucan riding Shergar through the lost city of Atlantis, and no newspaper or magazine will give a stuff about the quality, they’ll be tearing your arm off at the elbow to get hold of the image. They might even offer some money to publish that snap. It wouldn’t even need to be particularly sharp.

Now if I turned up at a client’s job with nothing more than my iPhone I think the client would be rightly upset. Replying “but this is the camera I have with me, therefore it is the best camera” would go down like a lead balloon.

And so I’ve re-written this cliché. It goes “the best camera is the one you have with because it’s the best camera you own and because you’re being paid to use it.” There, that’s fixed now so I can go after my new least favourite cliché. Just as soon as I’ve worked out what it is.

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  • Ben Blackall October 28, 2014  

    The answer; “the best camera is the one you have with you.” (which I have given numerous times) invariably follows a request from somebody hoping to take better photos about what camera will serve them best.

    These people are never professionals (pros generally know exactly what kit they want/need), looking to submit work to photo libraries etc, but amateurs looking to record the things that interest them in a more succesful way. What invariably happens once people get serious about photography is that they end up acquiring more kit than they are prepared to carry around on a regular basis. They will look at their camera bag containing a DSLR, two or three lenses and a flash and wonder if they can really be bothered lugging that stuff around. As professionals we accept the need to carry heavy kit but most people, understandlably, cant be bothered.

    I usually tell people that unless they are prepared to start down a road that will end up with them saddled with a heavy kit bag then the smallest, most unobtrusive camera they can find is the best bet – even if its only a phone.

    Once a camera, however good, is left at home then its useless. Most people with any sort of creativity will take better photos on an iPhone than a clueless person will with a Leica.

    So, is “the best camera is the one you have with you.”? I think it is.

    • Tim Gander October 28, 2014  

      Hi Ben, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. All of this true in its context, and in a sense that’s what the article is about (context). Perhaps when I wrote it I’d just become fed up of seeing the same cliché lazily rolled out time and again. To be honest, the internet is rammed with clichés. I’d like to tackle them all, but life’s too short.*

      *There’s another cliché for you!